US Presbyterians boycott Israeli cosmetics co Ahava

The company is based beyond the Green Line. The Presbyterians voted narrowly not to divest from Caterpillar, Motorola, and HP.

The 220th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the US, which has 2.3 million members, entered the Middle East mire last Thursday, with three decisions at its meeting in Pittsburgh, after months of debate and feverish lobbying by pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups. The General Assembly voted to boycott Ahava Dead Sea Laboratories Ltd. and Hadiklaim Israel Date Growers Co-operative Ltd. because the companies are based beyond the Green Line, but it voted against labeling Israeli policy toward the Palestinians as apartheid, and against divesting from Caterpillar Inc. (NYSE: CAT), Motorola Solutions Inc. (NYSE: MSI), and Hewlett Packard Inc. (NYSE: HPQ).

The inconsistency reflects efforts by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church to formulate what it considers a balanced position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As dozens of delegates said during the meeting, the Presbyterian Church did not want to be seen as an anti-Israel organization, but at the same time, it wanted to protest against what it sees as ongoing injustice against the Palestinians. The result was a conceptual mishmash which disappointed both Israel's friends and its critics.

Before the votes on Ahava and Hadiklaim, Reverand Jack Baca, moderator of the committee on Middle East Peacemaking, called it "an attempt to communicate our hope for signs of progress and that the proposed boycott would be temporary."

Opponents of the boycott of Ahava and Hadiklaim said that a boycott was not constructive and would not contribute to solving disputes. One delegate said he opposed the boycott because his dermatologist highly recommended Ahava products. However, Marilyn Daniel, an elder from Kentucky, spoke for the majority when she said the boycott was "a narrow and focused action which clearly states we are opposed to Israeli settlement on the West Bank ... It is not a broad and general condemnation of Israel."

The vote to boycott the two companies was 457 to 180. In another vote, the commissioners voted 463-175 against labeling Israeli policy toward the Palestinians "apartheid." The Middle East committee opposed the label, saying that while the policies were wrong, they did not fit the United Nations race-based definition of apartheid. The vote against divestment of Caterpillar, Motorola, and HP was a razor-thin 333-331, with two abstentions.

In 2011, a Presbyterian Church committee concluded that Caterpillar sells military bulldozers to Israel which are used to demolish Palestinian homes, that Motorola sells monitoring and surveillance equipment to Israel which are used against Palestinians living in the West Bank, and that HP sells to Israel biometric scanners used to identify Palestinians at roadblocks and technology used by the Israel Navy in its blockade of Gaza.

The decision not to divest from the three companies is a setback for the Palestinian Divest, Boycott and Sanctions (BDS) Movement, which calls for economic pressure against Israel to persuade it to end the occupation of Palestinian territory, similar to the campaign against apartheid in South Africa.

Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 8, 2012

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2012

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